First off, let’s just give Jonathan LaPoma a little thanks for answering these and for not getting annoyed at me for bugging him for various reasons (reviews, questions, opinions on books.) So thank you. I greatly appreciate it.
1. What is the first book that ever made you emotional/cry?
Where the Red Fern Grows. If this wasn’t the first book to make me emotional/cry then it was one of the first. The relationship the young boy has with his dogs was profound, and even though I didn’t have a dog when I was a kid, I could understand why his dogs were so important to him.
Awe. Yes, definitely a good choice. I have five dogs and they’re the greatest.
2. Do you try to keep your writing original or do you give your readers what they ask for?
I think most readers want to read something original even if the story looks like something they’ve read a hundred times, so “giving them what they want” might not necessarily be so far removed from writing something original. That being said, I don’t necessarily write my books for an audience, but I do usually have someone in mind who I feel I’m telling the story to–almost like an intimate conversation with a friend. I don’t picture a real friend, more of an abstraction of “friendness,” who understands me and isn’t judging, but rather, interested in what I have to say and participates in the conversation. I don’t care about trends or focus groups or beta readers or anything like that. I write the stories that I’m dying to tell that “friend,” which, I believe, is a great way to keep the writing original.
That’s genius. I never thought about it in such context.
3. If you could tell your younger self as a writer anything, what would you say?
I started writing short stories when I was about 11, but even then, I knew the stories all sucked. I didn’t think I had what it took to make a story pop off the page like my favorite authors were able to do–Beverly Cleary, R.L Stine, Matt Christopher, Harper Lee, Gary Paulsen–so I eventually gave up. If I could speak with that kid now, I’d tell him that it isn’t reasonable for him to expect to write at the level of professional writers, and that he should just keep writing whatever pops into his head without judging whether it’s “good” or not. I had some wild ideas when I was little, but I had no idea how to execute them, so I figured writing wasn’t a talent I possessed and gave up on it until I was about 24. I probably could have written some great stories in that time if I just fed that wild side and let the weirdness take over.
That’s wonderful advice. I definitely see where you’re coming from as I started wring around 10-11 as well and I’ve just always thrown the manuscripts in a box and left them there because I think they’re terrible. I’m still working on this, so perfect advice!
4. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
A few months ago, I read The Petting Zoo by Jim Carroll–one of my favorite authors–and I was surprised to see the low ratings it got on Goodreads (it’s got a 3.4 right now). I thought it was brilliant and touching with almost virtuosic writing, but clearly not everyone felt that way. Carroll died before finishing the book, and it’s remarkable he left behind something so beautiful without adding the last brushstrokes.
Wow. I’ll have to look into that one!
5. What does literary success look like to you?
Readers who connect with the story so deeply that they don’t want it to end. Readers who feel less alone because they read my book. Readers who have a better understanding of themselves by reading something I’ve written then hand the book to their friends and say “This! This is who I am!” A book doesn’t exist until it has readers, and literary success to me depends on the profundity of the relationship I make with people who read my work.
I can say, from personal experience reading your books. You write in a way that connects so well with readers, every aspect seems so…relatable? You definitely make it possible to build that perception of our own lives through your novels.
6. How many hours a day do you write?
I usually write from about 11-7:30 on weekends/days off but would love to do it full time.
7. How do you select character names?
Sometimes the name is symbolic, like my protagonist’s name in Developing Minds, Luke Entelechy, but most of the time I mix up the first and last names from previous works. I see my all of my novels/books/songs/poems as being part of one big story, and by recycling these names, there’s a kind of unconscious connection between them. Other times, I just make up something ridiculous like the names in Understanding the Alacrán (Little Roger Donkeysamples being my favorite).
I’m assuming that’s why they are loosely linked. Because you view them as one interlaced story? You seem very creative when it comes to names like Little Roger Donkeysamples. It adds facet to the humor in your books.
8. What was your hardest scene to write?
I can’t think of a particular hardest scene, but there have definitely been some stories that have been harder to write than others. It took me about 5 days to write my third screenplay, The Way Back Home, but it took me about a year to finish my second, Dellwood. While both stories have a lot of characters and time changes, and deal with some pretty heavy issues, The Way Back Home just flowed out of me. I think part of that had to do with the fact that I’d already written two screenplays and had some experience, but I think that some stories just come out quicker than others.
I agree. Some take longer and are more difficult to write than others.
9. Where do yourself in 5 years as an author?
Recently, I optioned a screenplay to one of the producers of the American Pie and Final Destination films, and, in five years, I’m hoping to be living in the Mexican countryside and writing scripts/novels full time. I have at least two new novels and twelve more screenplays in me right now, and I just need some time to write them. I also hope to start a band in the next year or two and would like to record a few albums within five years. In another five years after that, I hope to be directing films as well.
Wow, that’s awesome. I always have wanted to visit Mexico. That’s impressive, you’re pumping out literary works like a champ. I personally feel like music and writing go hand in hand, something about adding a tune to your words. You surely have some goals and I’m sure you’ll reach them. As for the two new novels, I’d love to read them when they come out!
10. Who influences your writing style? / Who inspired you to become an author?
I’ve had quite a few creative influences throughout my life, and not all of them have been novelists. I got the idea to write my first novel, Understanding the Alacrán, while traveling through Mexico by bus and reflecting on my experiences there. I’d never written a book before, but felt an overwhelming urge to tell the story. A lot of this desire was fueled by songs I was listening to on the trip–mostly stuff by Lou Reed, Dylan, and The Doors. A lot of my writing has been influenced by music and film. In fact, a lot of the writers I credit as influences are authors I read after having written Understanding the Alacrán. Most of the language that I used to construct the emotional structure of the novel came from the music I was listening to and films I was watching at the time. Later on, when I read books by guys like Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Jim Carroll, and Junot Diaz, their work affirmed that I was on the right path, and now I just do my best to stay on that path so I can deliver the stories I was meant to deliver.
That is incredible. Like I said in the last question, music certainly influences writing more than some think. You’re writing is outstanding, you must be doing something right!
11. Do you create an outline before actually writing or do you just jump into a plot?
I usually create a rough outline then start writing. I find that if I start going into too much detail with the outline, I have a tendency to write the story in disjointed chunks rather than something that flows from start to finish.
That’s very helpful. My first novel (which is not completed) I had a plot and character names and that was it. I jumped head first into the story and after writing 30,000 words I felt as if I “missed out” by not writing an outline first.
12. Do you prefer to handwrite or type when you write?
Type. I type much faster than I write, and my brain and fingers have about the same rhythm/pacing. When I hand write stories, I have to slow down my thoughts, and this frustrates me.
So do I! I have been homeschooled/cyber schooled since 4th grade so I have typed almost every day for the past nine years. I type faster than anyone in my family. Although, I don’t mind handwriting some things but when it comes to stories, I find it too gradual and sluggish for me. I have to keep repeating sentences to keep my mind on track and it gets tedious.
13. How do you pull yourself out of writers block?
I don’t typically get writers block, and I think that this is because I usually know so much about my stories before I write them that I have far more information than I could ever include. Also, I feel as though writing is an ongoing task, and I think about my stories while I’m washing the dishes, in the shower, going for walks…, and often, I’ll work out story problems long before I sit down to start typing. I love the idea of immersing myself in a story and feel this is my best method to produce original, compelling work.
That sounds like a great technique. I applaud you for not getting writers block because it can be hell getting stuck and trying to swing back into writing afterwards.
14. What’s your idea of a perfect review?
Someone who not only understands the story at its deepest levels but also finds it to be important to them personally.
I find that agreeable. I hope my reviews do justice for your novels.
15. What’s your favorite quote? Why?
I love you, because that’s where it all comes from and that’s where it’s all going.
That’s a superb quote. Very poetic.
Thanks again Jonathan for taking the time out of your days to answer my questions. I hope you enjoyed answering as much as I did asking.
Readers: Go check out Jonathan LaPoma on Goodreads and his website as well as look into his books because he is an admirable writer and his stories draw you in.
Short Girl Out; Signed,